Frank opened the front door of his house and immediately smelled dinner cooking when he stepped in. He smiled. There was nothing like coming home to a good meal and your beautiful wife cooking in the kitchen- especially when your daughter was gone for the evening, spending the night at a friend's house. Frank knew he and Sarah would have the evening alone together. He hung his keys on the hook by the door, set his other things down on the living room couch, and went into the kitchen.
He paused in surprise in the kitchen doorway. There was a pot on the stove that was boiling over and making a mess. Sarah was nowhere to be seen. He went to the stove and moved the pot off the burner.
It looked like the other pot on the stove was okay, with potatoes boiling gently. Meat sizzled as it cooked in the oven. Ingredients for whatever other side dish Sarah was making were spread out on the counter, with a cutting board and a few utensils.
"Sarah?" Frank called, walking back to the doorway of the kitchen. He stood there for a moment waiting, and when no response came, he called again. He headed through the living room and down the hallway, wondering what she was doing. He glanced in the bathroom. Not in there. He turned back to the hallway and realized there was a dark shape down at the end of the hall. It looked like Sarah was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall.
"Sarah?" Quickly, he flipped on the light switch. His eyes widened and his heart raced. She was bloody. "Sarah! Oh God!" He flew to her side. Her head was drooping, her body still. The blood came from a red slit across her throat. She was sitting upright against the wall with her arms folded. Frank shook her, even though he knew she was dead.
He ran to get the phone from the living room, sobbing as he went. With shaking hands, he dialed 9-1-1. A woman answered.
"My wife's been killed!" he blurted hysterically. In a maddeningly calm voice, the woman asked him where he was and what had happened. Help was on the way, she told him after he gave his address. He told the woman how he'd found Sarah, including the strange position she was in, as if someone had positioned her after the kill.
Then she asked him something he hadn't expected.
"Is the killer out of the house?"
Frank froze. "What?"
"Could the attacker still be in the house?"
Trembling, Frank turned his head towards the hallway. Why hadn't he thought of that?
"Sir?" came the voice on the phone.
Frank went quickly to the kitchen and yanked open the knife drawer. He pulled out a sharp knife.
"Sir? Sir, I want you to go out of the house and wait on the sidewalk," said the woman on the phone. Frank laid the phone on the kitchen table and walked slowly but steadily back to the hallway. He tried not to let his eyes fall upon his wife on the floor again, but they did.
He poked his head into the first room, the bedroom that he and Sarah shared. Carefully, he stepped in and flipped on the light. He pushed the door all the way to the wall to be sure no one was behind it. Next, he bent and lifted the bed covers enough to see beneath the bed. No one to see there. He went to the closet and stood in front of it for a moment, not wanting to open it. But he gripped his knife, pressed his lips together in determination, and slid the door open. Nobody.
He went back into the hallway and then to the bathroom. The shower curtain was drawn shut. Moving slowly so as not to make a sound, he approached the bathtub. In a swift jerking motion, he drew back the curtain enough to look in. The tub was empty.
He stepped back into the hallway. There were two rooms left: Katie's room and the vacant bedroom, which stood across from each other at the end of the hall. Sarah's body sat in between.
Frank made his way to the end of the hall and turned his head to glance into both rooms. His eyes widened when he saw that the window was open in the vacant room. And there were blood smears on the windowsill. Frank entered that room and made his way cautiously over to the window, glancing around the room for any threat as he went. When he neared the window, he saw a man outside- a bald man, and he was climbing over their backyard fence in a hurry. Frank watched with wide eyes as the man ran across the street and then disappeared down the next street.
Slowly, Frank turned away from the window and began heading back towards the hallway and Sarah. He suddenly felt very weak. He allowed his legs to give way beneath him and he plopped down on the floor, his back against the bed. His breathing was heavy and his gaze locked onto Sarah as the sound of sirens came out of the distance and grew steadily closer.
A man stood next to the water fountain in the darkness. The water fountain was a large, elegant display in front of a line of upscale clothes shops, a strip mall almost on the outskirts of Gotham. It was late, almost one o'clock in the morning. Not a single other soul was in sight. Not that the city was sleeping- Gotham never really slept- but the man seemed to have this area to himself right now.
The man was enjoying the fresh air and the sound of the water in the fountain. He hadn't been outside, even briefly, for months before today. He wore no shirt; he'd taken that off and tossed it several minutes ago. Light from the nearest lamppost gleamed slightly off of his smooth head. Scars covered quite a bit of his body, scars in the form of tally marks. He raised his knife to his chest and cut a new tally mark. The cut had to be deep to ensure a good scar. He clenched his teeth as the knife did its job, then watched the blood begin to run down.
He bent to get a little water from the fountain pool in his hand and splashed it over the cut, washing the blood away. Then he dipped his knife into the water, swishing it around and watching the blood flow off from the blade and dissipate. Then he suddenly heard something, or more like sensed something, behind him.
He jolted upright and spun around. There was a dark figure standing there.
"Batman," he said.
"Zsasz." Batman looked at the bleeding cut. "Adding another one for the woman you murdered earlier?"
"You mean liberated," Zsasz responded.
"You're going back to Arkham," Batman told him. It wouldn't be the first time Batman had returned Victor Zsasz to Arkham Asylum.
"Sorry. I'm not ready to go back!" Zsasz lunged forward with his knife, but Batman was out of the way before Victor even began the stabbing motion. The knife wouldn't have posed much of a threat against most parts of the batsuit, but Batman dodged, anyway.
Batman hit Zsasz from behind, bringing him to his knees. "I'm going to do this the easy way," Batman said, and brought Zsasz up from his knees with an arm around his throat. He tightened the arm around the throat, tucking it behind his other raised wrist. Within seconds, Zsasz slumped, unconscious. Batman let him down to the ground, tied his wrists behind him and tied his ankles, and then heaved Zsasz over his shoulder and walked off.
The next day, Bruce Wayne sat in his upstairs living room on the couch. The curtains were drawn shut and the room was dimly lit, the way he liked it. The news was on the TV. A reporter informed viewers about the escape of Victor Zsasz from Arkham Asylum, and the subsequent murder he'd committed in a town just outside of Gotham City. Like the majority of Zsasz's victims, the woman had been found with her throat slit and her body posed. Zsasz had been apprehended by police (according to the news) later that night, and was currently back in Arkham Asylum.
The reporter also explained that the victim's body had been discovered by her husband, Frank Sullivan. The married couple had an eight year old daughter named Katie.
Bruce didn't notice Alfred enter the room until he stood nearly in front of him, causing Bruce to jump a little.
"Hungry, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked.
Bruce nodded and sat up properly for Alfred to stand his food tray in front of him.
"Nothing like breakfast at noon," Alfred said with a chuckle as he placed Bruce's food on the tray. Bruce remained silent and showed no hint of a smile. "Why so glum?" Alfred asked.
Bruce looked back to the TV, which was now showing a commercial.
"You put away Mr. Zsasz last night," Alfred pointed out.
"Not soon enough," Bruce finally spoke.
"Oh Master Bruce," Alfred said, "Don't say that. You didn't let him spend even one full day out of Arkham!"
"That woman had a family. A husband and a child," Bruce said. He closed his eyes, remembering the pain of having his parents murdered during his own childhood. His heart was aching for that little girl.
Alfred looked understandingly at Bruce, waiting a moment before responding. He had worked for Bruce's parents before they'd been killed, and he'd continued taking care of Bruce ever since then. He knew his employer and friend well, and he knew what he was thinking. After a moment, Alfred said, "The important thing here, Master Bruce, is that you stopped it at one kill. Mr. Zsasz is locked up now. You've saved who knows how many. Don't try to make yourself into a failure."
Bruce nodded, opening his eyes to look at his food and knowing that Alfred was right.
Alfred smiled and turned to leave the room, knowing that Bruce would be fine. Bruce felt like this once in a while, and he always came to his senses. Bad things still happened even with Batman around, and always would- but Batman had made Gotham into a much better place than it once had been, and somewhere deep down in there, Bruce knew it.